NASA astronaut Fernando “Frank” Caldeiro died Saturday morning after a two and a half year battle with brain cancer. Although he never flew in space, Caldeiro served as the lead astronaut in several technical support roles. “Frank was a valued member of the astronaut corps and the Flight Crew Operations team,” said Brent Jett, director, Flight Crew Operations. “He provided a wealth of experience and made significant contributions to the success of both the WB-57 project and the Space Shuttle Program. He will be missed by all those who knew him at NASA. Our hearts go out to his family.” Caldeiro was 51.
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He was the first person of Argentinean descent to train for a space flight. Caldeiro joined NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in 1991 as a cryogenics and propulsion systems expert for the safety and mission assurance office, he took part in 52 space shuttle launches before being selected as an astronaut in 1996.
He served as the lead astronaut for the station’s life support systems and its European-built components, reviewing the design and manufacture of the U.S. “Harmony” Node 2 and European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus modules, as well as the yet-to-be-launched Cupola robotics viewing port and the space shuttle-lofted cargo carriers, the Multi Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM).
From June 2005 to December 2006, Caldeiro served as the lead astronaut in charge of shuttle software testing at the Johnson Space Center’s Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, testing in-flight maintenance procedures, prior to being reassigned to Houston’s nearby Ellington Field to direct the high-altitude atmospheric research experiment program carried onboard NASA’s WB-57 aircraft. He was still serving in that role when he passed away.
Caldeiro however, would never be assigned to a mission.
In 2006, he told the Orlando Sentinel, “Flying in space, to me, has become more like, well, you know, you can’t chase something so much that you run it over. You can be obsessed by it and be miserable or you can say, ‘Well, this is an opportunity; I’m first in line in front of 350-million other people.'”
His family migrated to the US from Argentina when Caldeiro was 16. He didn’t speak any English at that time, but went on to complete a Master of Science degree in engineering management from the University of Central Florida. In 2002, he was named National Hispanic Scientist of the Year by the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, Florida. That same year, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under the “No Child Left Behind” Act.
He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Sources: NASA, collectSPACE